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RAC

5.0 Safety and security

Police car by crash

Motorists are facing a conundrum. They have never felt safer and more cocooned than they do now in the cars they drive. But they also believe the roads themselves are not getting safer. Some 44% of motorists do not feel safer on the roads, almost three times as many as those claiming to feel safer than ever before. In terms of where they live, 49% of rural against 32% of urban motorists don’t feel safer. Allied to this, only 19% of motorists agreed with the statement ‘I believe the standard of driving amongst all motorists is as good as it ever has been’.

5.1 Feeling safe

In-car technology makes more than half of motorists feel safer than ever before. And those that drive the most feel safest, with almost seven in ten company car drivers feeling safer in their cars because of new features and technology. Two thirds of drivers aged 70 and over also take comfort from this, against just 43% of drivers aged 17-24, who perhaps never experienced driving cars without many of the safety and hi-tech features that we take for granted today.

Motorists over the age of 60 are the most appreciative of new safety technology, with 83% feeling safer with parking sensors, compared to 70% of all motorists. Alcolocks also made 70% of motorists aged 45 and over feel safer, but only 60% of motorists aged 17-24 felt this way. Alcolocks were less likely to make those living in an urban area feel safer than those in rural dwellers.

"The feeling of being safe inside the car versus feeling less safe on the roads is a ‘cocoon’ effect. Younger generations of drivers have grown up with the in-car safety technologies that are now seen as standard. They are comfortable with these, which adds to this feeling. But at the same time, people clearly want more done to monitor the behaviour of other drivers on the roads, who they feel pose a risk to them due to perceived bad driving habits."

Robert Gifford
Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Panel for Transport Safety

5.2 Speeding

80 mph signIn this year’s Report, 92% of motorists believe they are law abiding, even though 83% admit to regular speeders. The belief that speeding is acceptable and is somehow less serious than other motoring offences is evidenced in attitudes to changing speed limits and their penalties.

  • Three quarters of motorists believe that if the motorway speed limit increased to 80 mph, the majority of drivers would drive at 90 mph, yet 62% still say they would like the limit lifted to 80mph or above. Interestingly this latter figure has fallen from 75% in 2010 during a period when average speeds on motorways have also fallen. Whether this is because of the increased cost of fuel when driving fast rather than for environmental or safety reasons will only become clear if fuel prices fall.
  • Motorists are however much happier with 50/60 mph on country roads, 30 mph on urban ones and 20 mph in urban area zones – such as those around schools and in certain residential streets. This doesn’t stop a sizeable minority speeding on them though, with 46% of motorists admitting to speeding in a 30 mph limit, 37% in a 50/60 mph limit and 36% in a 20 mph one. However, unlike motorways, only a very small minority of drivers regularly exceed the limit on these types of roads. Rural drivers admit to speeding more on motorways when conditions are good than their urban counterparts, but urban drivers speed more on all other type of road than they do. Again though, according to the research in the Report, average speeds have fallen compared to a few years ago.
  • Two thirds of motorists support different speed limits on similar classes of road depending on their suitability, with 70% of rural drivers and 63% of urban drivers feeling this way. Company car drivers, with 72% in favour, felt most strongly on this.

Company car drivers have different attitudes to speeding from their private motorist counterparts, and see it as a lesser crime. This is perhaps because their livelihoods depend on being able to drive, and some may be required to have a clean licence by their employer.

  • 38% of this group support no penalty for minor speeding offences against 29% of private motorists.
  • 6% support a five year ban for motorists caught speeding excessively against 19% of private motorists.
  • 87% admit to speeding on motorways (38% on most motorway journeys) against 61% of private motorists (19% on most motorway journeys).

There appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding about the social impact of speeding and the increasing likelihood of fatalities and serious injuries as speeds rise. This, and a perceived lack of police presence, has engendered a lax attitude to speeding amongst a significant proportion of motorists that endangers both themselves and other drivers around them. There is a strong argument for renewed campaigning on the dangers of speeding as the problem is quite clearly not confined to the stereo-typical ‘young male driver’.

"It’s very interesting that support for a higher motorway speed limit has fallen so much in 2012, despite all the publicity on the issue. Nationally, statistics show that driving speeds are falling but regionally it’s a more mixed picture. Some local councils turned off speed cameras as part of ending the ‘war on the motorist’ but others didn’t. The result is the complex picture we’re seeing."

Professor Stephen Glaister
Director, RAC Foundation

Unlike in previous years, Government did not run a major road safety campaign from May 2010 to Christmas 2011 – when drink driving adverts ran.

5.3 Driving under the influence

Only 7% of motorists admit to knowing or believing that they have driven over the limit shortly after having a drink and 6% to having done so the morning after. But 14% of 17-24 year olds admit to knowing or believing they have driven under the influence the morning after. Younger people are also three times as likely – at 21% - than someone aged 45-59 to get in a car the morning after with someone they know or suspect to be over the limit.

Young people are also more likely to drive under the influence of drugs.

  • 9% of 17-24 year olds admitting to having done so against 5% of all motorists.
  • Company car drivers are the least likely to have done so at 1%.
  • 6% of urban drivers against 2% of rural motorists admitted to drug-driving.
  • 7% of 17-24 year olds admit to being driven by someone under the influence of drugs against 2% of all motorists.

Motorists, whilst being tolerant of speeding, are much less forgiving of driving regularly, or while excessively, under the influence of drink or drugs, with 55% calling for a lifetime ban for such offences and 95% calling for a ban of some duration. However support for a ban fell to 61% for drink and 73% for drugs for one off or just over the limit offenders. There appears to be a direct link between the likelihood of offending and the views on severity of penalties. For example only 49% of 17-24 year olds support a lifetime ban for people caught regularly or excessively under the influence of drugs against 62% of 45-59 year olds.

This attitude again highlights the dangers of allowing people to drive without regular reminders about the dangers of drink and drug driving and how impaired senses can lead to fatalities. It also brings back into focus the perception that the lack of visible policing encourages these motorist to continue to endanger themselves and other road users.

From July 1, all drivers in France are required to carry a breathalyzer so that they can confirm that they are not over the limit. Non compliance currently carries a fine of 11 Euros.

5.4 Mobile phones

It is illegal to use a hand held mobile phone whilst driving, and police figures suggest it was a contributing factor in 2% of road fatalities in 2010 , but motorists appear to be constantly flouting this law.

  • 21% have held a mobile phone while either driving or stationery at lights. 17-44 year olds are the worst offenders with 28% admitting it against just 9% of motorist aged 70 and over.
  • 23% have texted while either driving or stationery at lights. By age, 39% of 25-44 year olds and 38% of 17-24 year olds admitted to this offence against only 2% of 60-69 years, and 28% of urban against 21% of rural drivers also admitted to this.
  • 11% of all motorists have accessed social media or their emails whilst driving, rising to 19% for the 17-24 year old age group. 19% of urban drivers also admitted to this against 9% of rural drivers.
  • 11% of all motorists also accessed other websites whilst driving – 18% of 17-24 year olds. 20% of urban drivers also admitted to this against 7% of rural drivers.

Too many motorists do not treat using hand held mobiles as an offence, which suggests that current penalties are not working. Only xx number of people were given a fixed penalty notice for driving using a mobile phone without a hands free kit last year. However:

  • 42% would like to see a ban for people convicted of mobile phone related offences, whilst 53% support fines and three or six points on a licence. Only 4% support no penalty at all.

mobile phone factAgain, awareness campaigns on the dangers of being distracted by a mobile phone and more visible police enforcement are needed. A sizeable minority also want more severe penalties as evidenced above which shows the depth of feeling about this. The recent Department for Transport British Social Attitudes 2011 survey reveals that half (49%) of respondents wanted any form of mobile phone usage in a car banned and 71% felt the law was not properly enforced. Moreover 90% claimed it was not safe to talk on a hand held mobile while driving.

Whilst media attention is focused on offences whilst driving linked to specific equipment such as mobile phones, it is an offence to drive without care and attention when adjusting radios or air conditioning. These can, and do cause accidents by distracting drivers which is why campaigns need to alert motorists to any distraction that can take a driver’s concentration away from the road.

5.5 Policing

As stated earlier in the Report, four of the top five issues of concern for motorist relate to the behaviour of other drivers and the deteriorating state of the roads they drive on. Green issues, concerns about older and young drivers and even our preparedness for bad weather have gone down the priority list as motorists focus increasingly on the issues concerning their immediate driving environment.

Not surprisingly therefore, they believe there are not enough police on the road and that this allows a hard core of badly behaved drivers to constantly break the law, secure in the knowledge they are unlikely to get caught.

More than three in five motorists think there are not enough police on the road enforcing driving laws and this includes many of those same drivers who admit to speeding regularly. 57% of rural drivers want more visible roads policing, against 64% of urban ones. However 23% of all motorists actually believed they were unlikely to get caught breaking the law which appears something of a contradiction.

6.0 Education and driver confidence

4.0 Motoring priorities and funding